Gearing up

Kids get ready for Steamboat's first soap box derby

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— As people raced around the track outside, running incessant laps for the Spirit Challenge Walkathon, kids ages 9 to 16 in the nearby industrial arts room watched intently, hovered over wooden workbenches that were covered with cars under construction for the Soap Box Derby May 19.

The kids listened as Johnny Walker, a coordinator for the event, talked about the proper construction techniques for their cars.

Kids came with their parents or mentor and were at various stages of the building process. All cars were started with the same white plastic shell or body that comes as part of a pre-ordered car kit.

The mentor or parent working with the racer serves to teach the child how to build the car as well as the principles behind the mechanics of how the car is built.

Kids entered the race because of their interest in racing cars, or for others, it was an opportunity to try something new.

Jessie Buxton worked with her dad, Greg, on the floorboard of her car. Buxton said she likes cars, but her choice to enter the race was made for her when she won a drawing for a car kit. Her dad said they're not experts at car building, but he thought it would be a good opportunity for dad and daughter time.

Aiden Warren said he entered the race because it was the only sport that appealed him. His mother, Peggy Warren, who observed the construction process, said she thought the combination of working with a mentor and competing in the event would be a positive experience for her son.

The participation of the kids in the construction process is essential to their success.

Walker will be conducting race-day inspections. He said the inspections ensure that the car is built according to All-American Racing standards and that the racer knows all aspects of how the car was built. At the All-National race in Akron, Ohio, where the top finisher of the Steamboat derby will attend, more extensive questions will be asked and an inspector can ask a racer to duplicate specific construction steps that were needed to build his or her car.

Soap Box Derby contestant Aiden Warren's mentor, John Mosco, said he has helped Warren adjust the brakes and other components of his car.

As a former car builder, Mosco is able to fully explain the mechanical aspects of the car, which Warren will need to know during the inspections on race day.

Since the build of the cars are the same, the difference in race time will be influenced by the subtleties of construction, driving technique and weight.

As a gravity-driven car, the more weight the better. To make the race fair for lighter-weight individuals or cars, round weights can be bolted to the front and rear floor of the car. The maximum weight allowed in the Super Stock division is 230 pounds, which includes the driver, car and wheels.

The race will allow each racer to compete four times before being eliminated. After the end of the first run with a car, the tires of the two competing cars are switched to the exact location of the opposite car. The cars race again in opposite lanes to make up for time differences associated with differences in the lanes or the factory-made tires. Michelle Petix, derby director, says the All-American tires can run differently depending on the lane.

When the first car passes the finish line, the electronic timer starts recording the difference in time between the first car to finish and the second. When the cars are brought back to the start line to race again, if the losing car from the first heat beats the winning car, the car's time must be better than the winning time of the first heat to win.

The derby is not only a sport for the 21 competitors signed up, but for the spectators that plan on coming out to the top of Rockies Way to watch the race.

The community plays a important role in the project, not only as spectators, but as sponsors for the cars, which cost $500 each.

Ben Northcut from the Steamboat Rotary Club said one role of the Rotary's involvement in the project was to help kids find sponsors for the event.

"It a great mind-stimulating project," Northcut said. "Hope-fully these kids can learn something about building a car or aerodynamics, but I think they're taking (the racing component) pretty seriously."

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